But even when the Memorial has been dry, its outcome has had little to do with who won the Open. The only player ever to win the Open in the same year he won the Memorial was Curtis Strange in 1988. Since the first Memorial, in 1976, the only other winners who went on to top-10 finishes in the Open were Jack Nicklaus in '77, Hal Sutton in '86, Norman in '90 and Paul Azinger in '93. Conversely, only five winners of the Open had placed in the top 10 at the Memorial that same year: Jerry Pate in '76, Hubert Green in '77, Scott Simpson in '87, Strange in '88 and Tom Kite in '92. Along the way there were three years—1981, '84 and '89—in which nobody who was in the top 10 at the Memorial went on to finish in the top 10 at the Open.
The point is, the Open is the Open—different, unique unto itself. The only real prerequisite for winning is having command of your game and yourself that week. "You can't fake it in the Open," says Memorial host Nicklaus, who won four Opens. "I either played very well, or I had no chance. Usually the latter."
Often the winner has had a long stretch of solid, if not necessarily spectacular, golf coming into the event. "If a guy hasn't been playing well for a couple of months, that's the guy who wakes up with the lead on Sunday and shoots 78," says Green. Then again, a groove can be found at the last minute. Nicklaus says that's what happened to him the weeks of his victories in '67 and '80. "Both times I just found it with the putter and got confident," he says.
The USGA likes to say that the Open identifies the best player, but it's usually a certain type of player. The Open most rewards the strengths of the rank and file, as opposed to golf's stars. Open winners are generally not the players who are longest off the tee, use their power and creativity for spectacular escapes from trouble, make birdies (and bogeys) in bunches or are extroverted or emotional on the course.
Instead, they tend to be relentlessly straight off the tee, consistent with their irons, skillful at managing courses to avoid strategic mistakes and adept at saving par. They are frequently self-contained, expressionless players.
Ben Hogan, with four championships, was the model Open player. Sam Snead, with none, was not. The Open was made for the games of Billy Casper, Lee Trevino, Andy North, Irwin and Strange, all of whom have won at least two, and not for Tom Weiskopf, Lanny Wadkins, Craig Stadler, Seve Ballesteros and Fred Couples, who have won none. Style of play is why Loren Roberts, who can make six-footers for pars all day long (although last year at Oakmont he missed one on the 72nd hole that would have won), would figure to do better at Shinnecock than Jacobsen, whose biggest weakness over the years (although not this year) has been that he is not adept at making scrambling pars.
One of the attractions of Shinnecock is that it is less formulaic than other Open setups, with wider fairways, less-uniform rough and natural links terrain, which should make it more receptive to different styles of play. In '86, six foreign-born golfers finished in the top 24, more than in any Open since, suggesting the bounced-up approaches and chip shots that Europeans tend to excel at will be valuable.
Having said that, the very best players, regardless of styles, have historically found a way to win the Open. Arnold Palmer, Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Raymond Floyd—power players all—have their names on the U.S. Championship Cup. That's why Els's victory last year was so impressive. He is a young, strong player whose biggest weakness is probably driving accuracy, but through sheer determination and management he was able to outlast two straighter hitters, Colin Montgomerie and Roberts.
So far, the trio that is generally acknowledged to be today's Big Three—Nick Price, Faldo and Norman—hasn't been able to accomplish what Els did last year. However, all three emerged from the Memorial with the mandatory requirement: They're playing well.
Faldo has always been an enigmatic figure. This year he joined the PGA Tour specifically to be more acclimated for the two majors he has yet to win, the Open and the PGA. He was the beneficiary of Norman's debacle at Doral, posting his first victory on the Tour since 1984, but he was uncharacteristically shaky down the stretch of the Buick Classic, when he lost a two-stroke lead on the final nine and dropped to a tie for fourth. Faldo's biggest problem since winning his last major, the '92 British Open, has been inconsistent putting, and he seems more and more obsessed by it. Of all the majors, the Open is best suited for his game, but he will have to get rid of the damaging negative thoughts to win it.